Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Requiem for a Comic Shop Guy: Remembrances of My Time at Dewey's
I've been looking at a blank screen for much of the past week, trying to think about what to write; this was originally supposed to go up Friday, but I hadn't found the angle yet. You see, this past Wednesday was my last day working regularly at Dewey's Comic City. For those of you who are people who buy comics week in and week out, you know how important a comic shop is; it's like a neighborhood pub, only with more arguing about The Hulk. It's where you go to meet and share your interests with your people. I've been shopping at Dewey's since 1998, and have worked there since 2000. That's a long time. And whole my life is entering a whole new exciting phase (including, I hope, a new exciting phase here on the blog), it's still something I'll miss and want to look back on a bit.
Right around the time i started this blog, I wrote a post about what was great about comic shops and Dewey's in particular (you can find it here). And all of that is still true to this day. Maybe even more so. Because to be frankly a bit maudlin, Dewey's is where I have made many of my closest friends. Many co-workers and former co-workers were at my wedding. They're people I will miss seeing every week. And I'd like to think that is how they, and some of our customers, will feel about me. Because a comic shop is a community. It's where you go when you really want to vent about how Cyclops was right (yes, still a sore spot for me) or about how the newest TV project based on a comic was awesome/ok/lackluster/whatever. And if done right, it's a judgement free zone, where you don't have to worry about someone being a jerk because you love this stuff.
When I started shopping at Dewey's, the store was in this little alley off of a main street. I don't even know how I found it, but when I found out there was a comic shop within walking distance from my new college, I went the minute I had some free time. It was a good shop, I could tell; a bit more space given to trades then at a lot of other shops, but it was still the late 90s, so there were a good number of back issues too. And the guy at the register, who turned out to be the owner, Dan Veltre, seemed a nice guy. Plus, there was a section I hadn't seen at any of the shops I had frequented before: a section of small press and indy comics. No longer just superheroes for Matt, oh no. It's thanks to Dewey's I encountered work from Daniel Clowes, early work from Ed Brubaker, and work from a pre-Tiny Titans Art and Franco, the adorable Patrick the Wolf Boy. And that was just in the first couple years! I don't think I'd be as well rounded a comics reader I am today without Dewey's, and for that alone, I owe Dan's more eclectic tastes.
After a couple years of working at Borders (remember Borders? I miss Borders), I got lucky to have an opening in my job schedule at the same time the store did, and I started working at Dewey's the first Wednesday in February. And I was in heaven! First grab at any of the new comics? Sign me up. That would have been halfway through my sophomore year, and after being broken in as the new comics day guy, I started working behind the counter that summer, and pretty soon I was working three days a week running the show. Between times when I was working inventory with cycle sheets (hand filling in counts of books on gridded paper; how far we've come in a handful of years) and helping customers, I started to get to know some of those regulars, and I'm happy to say many are still Dewey's customers today. Summer of 2001 involved the arduous task of moving the store out of the alley onto the more spacious and more visible digs Dewey's still resides in today, on the corner of Park Avenue in Madison. Dan always swore that we would never move again, and I'll be honest: if he broke that promise, I think I would have run. You try moving an entire comic shop in August. Not fun.
I could sit here and wax rhapsodically about all the adventures since then. The Free Comic Book Days, the sales, the creator appearances (I've gotten almost as many sketches at Dewey's appearances as I have at conventions, and from some tip top creators). I am not going to sit here and tell customer service stories. Many of those can come off as snarky, which is against this blog's purpose, and I respect the inclusivity of the comic shop. Not to mention, as Dan says, it's not like we have any higher number of oddball customers than any other business, it's just the stigma of the comic shop makes it stick out more. What I will say is I never stopped enjoying working at Dewey's, even when what was a twenty minute commute became an hour, became two hours.
But all good things, etc. etc. As I prepare for a new step in my professional career, a traditional Monday to Friday schedule has become important, and so those convenient Wednesday off are not as convenient anymore. So, I am now a man who doesn't work at a comic shop anymore. And while I'll be getting my weekly books at a shop nearer to home now, I left my reserve card in place at Dewey's, as there isn't a better shop for finding trades and indy books in New Jersey.
I have too many regulars I would love to call out here, too many former coworkers who are still friends to this day. But specifically to Dan, my boos and friends for 17 years, and to John Bush, current manager and long time friend, thanks guys. I'll be seeing you soon. And if you ever need anyone to explain the history of Hawkman, or to discuss who is the best opposite number to Batman, I'm just a phone call away.